The 49ers came into the 2022 regular season with the expectation that Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw would dominate along the interior line all year. The two combined for 15 starts.
Kevin Givens, Hassan Ridgeway, and Kerry Hyder all played more snaps than Kinlaw. Jordan Willis played 23 more snaps and was inactive until Week 10.
The star is in place
Armstead’s impact was felt when he missed Week 5 through Week 12. The 49ers defense allowed more than three touchdowns just once when Armstead played, and that what the Jarrett Stidham legacy game.
From Week 13, when Armstead returned to the lineup, through the end of the regular season, only two players had more pressures than Armstead. He had the third-most quarterback hits — tied with Chris Jones — while consistently taking on double teams and being an excellent run defender.
Prior to 2022, Armstead hadn’t missed significant time due to injury since 2017. Since mid-season of 2021, Arik’s been a superstar at defensive tackle. Plus, he kept up his production during the playoffs.
Armstead is under contract for three more seasons, making him a restructure candidate if the 49ers want to sign a top-tier free agent. San Francisco could save $11.1 million in cap savings in 2023 and $10.8 million in 2024.
Wholesale changes outside of Arik?
Hassan Ridgeway, Kerry Hyder, T.Y. McGill, and Maurice Hurst are unrestricted free agents. Kevin Givens is a restricted free agent, so the 49ers have the opportunity to match any terms that the other team offers.
Dwumfour is an exclusive rights free agent, since he hasn’t accrued more than two seasons and has an expired contract. If the 49ers offer him a one-year contract at the league minimum, Dwumfour cannot negotiate with other teams.
So, that leaves Kinlaw, Dwumfour, Armstead, and Kalia Davis as defensive tackles on the roster heading into free agency. Kinlaw is under contract for one more year, making defensive tackle a priority this offseason.
The 49ers have made one-year commitments recently at defensive tackle, but that should change this offseason. Relying on Kinlaw to stay healthy has snake bit the Niners two seasons in a row. It’s difficult to envision the team doing the same for the third straight season.
Free agency, draft, or both?
It’d make sense for the 49ers to double-dip in both free agency and the draft for a defensive tackle.
Javon Hargrave and Daron Payne headline a deep free agency class, but they're bound to have markets outside of the Niners price range.
Steve Wilks could bring Matt Ioannidis over from Carolina as an interior rusher, while a Day 3 pick in the mold of D.J. Jones. Kinlaw would cost $4.9 million on dead money to release than keep, so I’d expect him to be on the roster for another season.